Mohammad Salah

We were once on a business trip to the United States with a few Arab journalists and members of the media when a meeting was held with those in charge of a research center concerned with studying the state of affairs of religions and of religious freedom. The American people had not yet been shocked by the events of September 2001, as the trip took place two years earlier. Those in charge of the center concluded their discussion with us by saying that hostility towards Arabs and Muslims is not a prominent phenomenon in American society, and that such hostility only becomes prominent within the US Administration, in Jewish pressure groups of course, and in the media. They added that ordinary American citizens knew nothing in the first place about Islam, Muslim nations or Arab issues, and that the issue of Cuban child Elian Gonzalez, who had fled Cuba with his mother to the United States at the time, and whose father had demanded that he be returned to him, a story which had kept the US media engrossed at the time, was much more important for US citizens than the Palestinian issue, the details of which they know nothing about.

They also added that the majority of Americans find it strange to see news published about the Palestinian issue in some US newspapers, even if given very little space, not because they hate the Palestinians, but because they consider the issue to be none of their concern, as well as one they know nothing about. To prove the truth of what they said, those in charge of the center showed us some recorded footage of the opinions of some US citizens about Islam. Laughter filled the room, as if the film had been a comedy, when one US citizen walking on the street answered the question: what do you know about Islam? His answer was: “I think, and I could be wrong, that it’s a religion!!” Laughter turned to sadness among those present when the interviewer asked: whose religion? Indeed, the American citizen appeared proud that his answer had been correct, and seemed to seek more success in front of the camera, so he answered without hesitation: “I think it’s the religion of Israel!!” The moral of the story is that this man knows only very little about Islam and the Arabs, and even about Israel; and that all he cares about is his home, his street, the neighborhood he lives in, or the town he is from; then his state and its government which provide him with services, and then his country which provides him with protection and safety. But all Americans came to know Islam with the events of September, and it was a painful beginning for them. American citizen at the time did not think of why this had happened or of what the circumstances and reasons were that had led to such aggression and detonated the desire for revenge harbored by some Muslims. As the anniversary of the attacks draws near, Americans are repeating their revenge. While agreeing that there is no justification for terrorism, murder or bloodshed, we cannot ignore the motives that might arise for some and be the reason for catastrophes to take place. Indeed, the US Administration is worried about its troops in Afghanistan, as press reports have feared, in reaction to threats of burning the Quran!.

Will Muslims understand that the US is unable to touch those who wish to burn Qurans when they see the US’s long arms able to reach everywhere? Should all Muslims bear the cost of mistakes committed by a small group of Muslims? Should every Muslim country now rein in its citizens who will object to burning the Quran? Does the weak official US stance agree with the words launched by President Barack Obama from Cairo, and addressed to the Muslim world, more than a year ago? Does burning the Quran have anything to do with forgiveness and restoring trust between East and West? Those who have called for this event should blame only themselves or their feeble minds when disaster strikes and they are unable to bear it. As for the civil society groups and organizations that raise banners of freedom for all, they are placing their credibility at great risk, as there is no way to justify attacking a revealed religion with freedom. Indeed, these same organizations pressure Arab and Muslim governments when non-Muslim citizens are harmed in unpremeditated incidents or offenses unrelated to any sectarian motives. Yet the most important revelation of this call for burning Qurans is that those who believed in the strength of US President Obama have become aware of the fact and the truth of it, as his image and perhaps his standing has gone up in flames, even among those who had believed him to be strong.

*Published in the London-based AL-HAYAT on Sept. 12, 2010.

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